Atheism described with Venn diagrams


Circles not shown to scale.
Being sure there is no God(s) is a proper subset of atheism.
One cannot hate God(s) and also be an atheist.
There are athists that neither hate religion nor are sure that there is/are no God(s).

“Sure” in definition C refers to what is sometimes called “strong atheism” which means that one doesn’t merely lack a belief in God(s) but also claims a belief that there is/are actually no God(s). Some may even claim knowledge that there is/are no God(s). This last position is sometimes referred to as “gnostic atheism”.

“Not convinced” in definition D refers to someone not yet having seen adequate evidence for God or gods and without this evidence one withholds belief. A common metaphor of this position would be the celestial teapot orbiting between the Earth and Mars. It is possible there could be such a teapot, but without evidence of one being there, most people would withhold a belief.

Someone who makes the claim that there is not a God would also not be convinced that there is a God – thus be a member of the larger circle.

Edit: 12/14/2009.

Since there are strong agnostics that object to my initial venn diagram, I’ve added another circle that might be more to their liking.

including agnosticism

Here, agnosticism would be circle E but without circle C. Agnosticism defined as considering the existence of deities as being unknowable. Thus, some agnostics would say they are not convinced (D but not C) since they can’t know one way or the other. Others may say that it is meaningless to even say they are not convinced since it is a subject in which one could not ever be convinced one way or the other (E but not D). Hopefully that covers everybody.

All I am doing is advocating a “big-tent” definition of atheism. It need not include all of agnosticism.

Others consider (a)gnosticism (about knowledge) and (a)theism (about belief) as being orthogonal to each other. With this orthogonal definition, one could have both (a)gnostic and (a)theistic attributes at the same time.

Edit: 01/08/2010

From discussions at  friendlyAtheist and theBelievingAgnostic it is possibnle to be both an agnostic and a believer. There would be a subset of  “E but not D”  for believing agnostics.


Atheism described with Venn diagrams — 8 Comments

  1. I love the way A & B work with D, but I don’t know quite how I feel about the wording for C&D. Do we have a working definition for “Sure” or “convinced” in this context? That would help clear things up for me.


  2. Jesse,

    I elaborated some on my intended meanings of “sure” and “not convinced” in the post above. I hope this helps.


  3. This “Agnostic atheist” business is maddeningly stupid and language-ruining.

    Atheism has exactly 1 definition in webster: “one who believes that there is no deity”.

    Agnostic was originally a religious word, and then they added a secular non-religoius 2nd definition meaning “Unsure”:

    1 : a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god
    2 : a person unwilling to commit to an opinion about something

    Adding a non-religious modifier of “unsure” to a religious word that means “sure there is no deity” is absolute semantic nonsense.

    It’s just agnostics trying to pretend like they are atheists, so they can hop on the anti-God bandwagon [which is a fun bandwagon].

    This is stupid, dilutes both words, and creates a lot of pointless discussions by people trying to label themselves differently than the original definitions of the words they use.

    Notice that the 2nd definition’s example is not religious, because it’s the non-religious use of the word.

    To then turn around and use the non-religious 2nd definition of the word to describe a religious word that is in direct contradiction to that definition is pure asshattery.

  4. @ClintJCL: Why should the language throw away this distinction between gnostic and agnostic atheists when it is a very useful descriptor? Agnostic atheist is not the same as a general agnostic.

    Basically, you want to lump the “D AND (NOT C)” area in with general agnostics. This is not a particularly useful thing to do because those two groups are not necessarily the same even though there is some overlap between the two.

  5. It’s a poor semantic construct that will seem like an oxymoron to the uninformed.

    If you want people to understand what you are saying, “agnostic leaning strongly towards atheism” is more descriptive.

    Yes, it’s longer to type. But it will ultimately result in 100% of people understanding what you are saying, instead of the small subset of people who have heard the “agnostic atheist” phrase, and taken the time to understand a phrase that, on the surface, appears to the layperson to be an oxymoron.

    The point of language is to communicate effectively, and the phrase is not effective at doing that.

  6. Either a person is ans Atheist or a Deist or if you want to play with word be an Agnostic DEIST, SH** or get off the POT : > )

    Science and reason.

    But I’m not an atheist.

    Science and reason have led me to Deism.

    Nothing in nature is left to chance
    Everything comes from the Divine.
    Never find fault in things
    You do not really understand.
    The enemy you wish to destroy
    Often proves to be your truest friend.

  7. The following is a re-posting of a comment I placed at theBelievingAgnostic

    Terminology is always difficult. I’m an advocate of using the weakest (most inclusive) definition of a term (like atheist or Christian). I don’t agree that “atheist” should mean someone who denies that there is a God. That excludes many people who consider themselves atheists. Similarly, “Christian” should not just mean a fundamentalist evangelical Christian. That would exclude many people (perhaps yourself) that consider themselves Christians. In both cases, adjectives should be used to describe the particular subset within the overall category. We can, of course, also come up with other words to identify some of the popular subsets (like Catholic, Methodist, etc). Within the big-tent version of atheism, it would probably be a good idea to likewise have some commonly agreed upon adjectives to describe the subsets and perhaps even some special words to identify some of the popular subsets. I also think that (a)theism should be about belief and (a)gnosticism should be about knowledge. I view these as orthogonal to each other where everybody can hold a position on both belief and what they claim as knowledge.

    Theism is usually defined as a belief in an interacting God(s) that can be influenced by prayer and worship. I prefer to minimally define atheism as someone who doesn’t have these theist beliefs. Since I don’t have these theist beliefs, I consider myself an atheist.

  8. In Firefox I normally use right-click > “Open in new tab” when browsing web pages. This can also be done when clicking on a bookmark. . . Is there any way to get Firefox to do this automatically (by default) when left-clicking a bookmark instead of having to do the right click?.

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